The Asus Eee PC 900HA Netbook was released in the second half of 2008 and I would be considered as ‘Out of his mind’ to review it now.
So does this article review the product mentioned in the title? Yes. But more importantly, this is an impassioned plea to the families in India to adopt the netbook and bring computing to the dining table.
Asus pioneered the concept of ‘netbook’ when they boldly came up with the idea of creating a tiny ‘notebook’ computer using under-powered components and selling it at throw-away prices. Obviously, they had done their market research because the concept of a ‘netbook’ (a notebook only good enough to browse the Net) caught on like wild-fire and soon enough every laptop computer maker in the world was peddling his version of the netbook.
Asus started by offering a product that featured a 7″ screen, 512 MB memory, 4 GB storage (less than what your mobile phone probably features), all powered by a 1 GHz CPU. The miracle was the fact that it was compact and light-weight enough to fit into a woman’s purse, yet powerful enough to launch Mozilla Firefox and WinAmp simultaneously. After-all, aren’t Firefox and Winamp 95% of our computing today?
They quickly ramped up the offering keeping market feedback in mind and started offering products that used the Intel Atom processor, 1 GB DDR2 RAM, up-to 160GB HDD and 10″ screens. No longer the domain of the purse, the netbook still was portable enough to tucked under-arm. Now the notebook had a decently large screen, enough RAM, oodles of HDD and would even play 720p Blue-ray rips.
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The version I specifically purchased for my wife (a primary school teacher by profession) features a 9″ LED Backlit LCD Screen, 1.6 GHz Intel Atom Processor, 160 GB HDD, 3 USB ports, Bluetooth, 802.11g Wireless, VGA Camera, On-board noise-canceling microphone, 3.5 hours battery life and a nifty charger. All of it fits beautifully into the bag she usually carries into work. The grand idea was a light-weight and stylish computer that would:
- Allow her to connect to the Wireless Internet at home and work anywhere
- Browse the Internet (mostly Orkut, Facebook and a little bit Twitter)
- Allow hands-free voice chatting over Google Talk or the occasional Video-call using Skype
- Listen to zillion hours of music that I and the Internet cumulatively store
- View & Repeat (endlessly) the ripped movie collection that we have, while she is flat on the bed after dinner (the Air Conditioner is ON, Laptop is on belly, Good quality headphones plugged in, screen is 1 foot away from eyes)
- If time permitted, she could use it for her professional purposes – create question papers, process the results, create presentations and show them using the class-room projector
I had seen the ClassMate Concept PC from Intel with my friend Dr. Neeraj’s daughter Aditi and was amazed with the little one’s prowess with her machine.
The Asus 900HA Netbook cost me Rs. 18,000/- at Mahalaxmi Computers (CTC, Secunderabad) when I bought it and started delivering amazing value from day 1. Finally a computer that was light-enough for my wife to carry around, running familiar operating system (Windows XP Home Edition) and productivity and non-productivity software. We will be celebrating the second anniversary of the netbook soon and everyday we discover new ways in which we integrate the computer in our daily life. We connect it to the LCD TV to watch movies, to the Amplifier to listen to music, to the laser printer to print rail-tickets, take it with us in the car to keep us entertained, read e-books on it in bed. Next project: connect a GPS modem (my defunct HP iPaq 6500 mobile phone) and use it as an improvised GPS navigation device.
While we are celebrating the netbook, the computing world is not. Why?
Because of the negative-image that has been generated around this product by the product’s detractors. From up-on-the-pedastal editors at CNET, ZDNet etc. to Senior Executives at companies such as Dell. Many have wasted time in denouncing the product. Ironically, it was them in the first place who generated the positive-hype.
When the regular brands of notebook computer makers couldn’t beat Asus’s marketing to shore up their declining sales, they decided to join the band-wagon. Every computer maker in the world introduced a version of the netbook. Start-ups across US, UK & EU sourced netbook assemblies from China and started selling them under their fledgling branding under-cutting the bigger names.
After 6 months, a concerted campaign began denouncing the netbook form-factor. It’s too small (isn’t that the premise of a notebook?). The keyboard is too cramped (not for my wife). Screen is too small (did they say the same about Sony Picture-book?). It’s under-powered (just how much power do you need to run Windows XP & Internet Explorer?).
If you notice, your basic computing experience (MS Office, Email, Printing) has not changed much since Microsoft Windows 3.1 on Intel’s 386 chip. The Megahertz has become Gigahertz. But it still takes you the same time to hammer out the blog post. The world of computers is full of contradictions. While Microsoft is hell bent on shoving the latest version of MS Office on you, you probably just need MS Office 1995. Microsoft adds more features and pizazz. Google Online Documents & Spreadsheets started life by giving you a ‘notebook’ interface and you found it pretty good.
What the netbook offers is a:
- Rugged & feature packed computer that has few moving parts, add-on cards or devices
- Low Electrical Power requirements to reduce the dent on your soaring electrical bill
- Low heat dissipation to keep your work environment cool and avoid the installation of an air-condition for the computer
- Sufficient processing power to help you to get your work done and keep you entertained
- Small foot-print that is important for our ever decreasing apartment sizes
- Most importantly, an entry cost that is truly affordable by the Indian middle class.
Netbook computers are also available in Micro-Desktop configurations that are the size of a pizza box. You can also buy the netbook platform (Intel motherboard and Atom CPU combination) to create your own netbook desktop!
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If only the Government showed any real initiative (instead of just creating endless ‘rights‘), it would be instrumental in driving down the cost of the netbook platform to a level where even low-income-group families could buy a computer for their home.
Global computer manufacturing brands would have you believe that netbooks are evil because they have very low profit margins which in turn stifle their creativity and innovation. They offer you the choice of buying a netbook for $300 and a ‘real’ notebook computer for just $100 more. They are holding a mourning session to remember the demise of the netbook in 2010.
I say not. Netbook computers are here to stay simply because of the excellent common sense they make.
A rose is a rose by any other name. Maybe a netbook by another name is known as the iPad?